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India-Australia Ahmedabad Test: Final match of series begins tomorrow


If you thought you had seen it all in Indian cricket, here’s one for you.

Rohit Sharma, the Indian captain, has referred to Ravi Shastri as an “outsider.” Shastri was India’s coach till recently, has been the team director in the past, and while not holding these roles been closely involved as a broadcaster and commentator ever since his playing days. This is after a 11-year career playing for India.

What prompted this? Well, Shastri had suggested the Indian team were complacent, after winning the first two Tests against Australia with some ease. “When you win two games, if the people outside are feeling that we are overconfident, it’s absolutely rubbish, because you want to do your best in all four games,” said Rohit, on the eve of the final Test in Ahmedabad. “You don’t want to stop by winning just two games, it is as simple as that. Obviously, all these guys, when they talk about being overconfident and all that, especially the guys who are not part of the dressing room, they don’t know what kind of talk happens in the dressing room.”

Rohit chose a different word to describe the team’s mindset and approach. “Ruthless is the word that comes to my mind. Not to give any inch to the opposition, especially when they’re touring abroad, and that is exactly we have also experienced when we have toured outside. The opposition will never let you come into the game, never let you come into the series,” said Rohit. “And that is the mindset we have as well. If it seems overconfident or anything like that to the outsiders, it doesn’t really matter to us, because Ravi himself has been in this dressing room, and he knows what sort of mindset we have when we play. It’s about being ruthless, not being overconfident.”

There’s little chance India will be overconfident in the final Test, though, their gambit of playing on challenging pitches playing into the hands of Australia as the ball did a lot on the first day. Teams winning the toss have lost each of the three Tests played so far, but there was the suggestion that this won’t be the case at the Narendra Modi Stadium.

Steve Smith said that this was likely to be the best first-day pitch of the series. There was however, plenty of time for things to change from when Australia had their practice session and when the first ball is bowled. What was different, unto that point, however, was that no special tricks had been applied to the surface. There was no selective watering on evidence, either when it came to lines or lengths.

For India, one change was likely, with the rested Mohammad Shami coming back into the eleven. In the normal course, he would have come in for Mohammad Siraj, who has been off the boil for a while now. But, Umesh Yadav returned home to be with family for the birth of his child. He was due to rejoin the team in Ahmedabad on Wednesday, but, if for some reason, that was delayed, Shami and Siraj could be the two seamers in harness.For Australia, the prospect of a pitch that was better for batting, at least to start with, raised hopes of a big score and a longer game. What they will have to wary of, however, is the sense of occasion that will be created.

With Modi and Anthony Albanese, the Australian Prime Minister, set to meet, be feted and watch some of the action on the first day, the hype levels will be higher than they’re used. India’s cricketers will be much more familiar with how things operate when VIPs show up at the cricket.

Already there is talk that the record for the highest attendance for a single day’s Test cricket could be broken. 91,112 turned up at the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch Australia take on England in the 2013-14 Ashes series.

In India, especially in Ahmedabad, it’s not hard to pack a ground, if the idea is to break a record and create some artificial excitement. Cricket fans often ask that sport and politics be kept separate. But, the reality is that sport is not played in a vacuum at the best of times. And, when politicians want to bend sport to their will, there is little point in trying to resist. From cricket diplomacy in the time of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to 75 years of friendship through cricket — the tagline for this game — the sport has long been used in this manner.

All that can be hoped for, is that distraction can be got out of the way as quickly as possible, so the real action, between bat and ball, can shine brightest.

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